“Oh dear!” said the dental assistant with a laugh, “I got you a pink toothbrush by mistake! Would you like me to get you a different one?”
Little a, all of 7 years old looked down at his little packet of dental floss, toothpaste and the offending toothbrush, looked up and said, “It’s fine”.
“Are you sure? It’s okay if you want it; otherwise I can check. We should have a blue or green one”
“No, it’s fine!”
“Okay then!” And she left the room to sign us out.
“Good for you!”, I beamed at my son. He shrugs and says, “It’s just a color!” (What’s the big deal, you people?!)
And, that, in a nutshell, is my younger son.
I started putting his clothes in sets in hangers, hoping, just like his older brother before him, that he would wear the T shirt and shorts or trousers that I had assigned. Previous experience has alerted me to the fact that kids are capable of choosing bizarre color combinations! But; just like anything else where I give him Option A and Option B and he always insists on something completely different; here too, he pulls whatever he wants out of the hangers, mixing and matching, and finds his unique style.
“That’s not really appropriate to wear at this time, you know!”, I can’t help saying, seeing his formal shirt, black trousers and clip-on tie at 75 degree heat. “What do you mean?”, he asks. “Well….. (telling him that it’s hot never works because he doesn’t feel the heat as much), most of us are in shorts and tees now, so people may wonder whether you’re going to a party or something,” I say, smiling!
He shrugs his shoulders. Who cares!
At the same time, he can be very affectionate, giving me full body hugs and bringing me his soft toys so that I don’t sleep alone! He gets furious if not given his own way, yet melts at a kind word or look.
This year, he returns to second grade and along with him, a good friend from kindergarten joins him in the same class. When the class list came out, I got an instant call from the mom of this friend who was thrilled that the two were together again.
His friend is autistic. In kindergarten, he suffered from anxiety which, coupled with his speech delay, gave him a hard time during those days. I didn’t know any of this, just being introduced to him as ‘my friend’. I did find the friend a little hard to understand but I figured that many kids take a long time to stop lisping.
His mom was very friendly and would constantly ask us to come over or to meet them at the park. Because of my job, I could only accept a few of those invites. Then, at parent-teacher conference day, the dad also came over and spoke to me and told me how delighted they were that the two boys were friends.
I couldn’t make out why they seemed so eager to be friends until the mom and I started talking more and she spoke casually about speech therapy and other classes related to developmental delays. I also noticed that he would often come out of school visibly upset, while the teacher would follow behind and then gently draw the mom away to talk. I realized slowly that Little a was probably his only friend.
One day, he called Little a his brother. Another day, his dad told us that every night, before bed, when they say their prayers, they would thank God for Little a. I still choke up remembering that.
It’s not so much because of Little a‘s innate compassion or affection, though there is that too, but because Little a doesn’t abide by norms; he doesn’t think about what others think; he cares little about how well someone speaks and only if they play well with him; he’s mature enough to identify good friends who others may veer away from; he’s not intimidated by different.
And, every day, I marvel that I am the mother of this boy!